…I do think it’s [discussing what sort of technology should be used in the classroom] a waste of time. It depends where you want to focus your energies. If you focus on the technology, you ignore the central problem and the central issue…it is critical to have very good teachers who are committed to learning about their craft, who continue getting better at their craft…if we focus on the technology we’ll miss the main game, which is the learning and a contemporary learning in today’s world.
-Greg Whitby (Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 2012).
The opinion expressed by Whitby above is widely regarded as an unquestionable truth by many stakeholders in the education sector, rather than as an expression of faith and buzzwords. In fact, we don’t have to choose whether to focus our energies on quality teaching or technology. The relationship between the two is not a zero-sum game.
What impacts on student achievement in Australia?
While teaching staff are the greatest variable with the highest impact on student learning that can be controlled, the percentage of achievement variance (which is heavily influenced by socio-demographic and socio-economic determinants) among the students themselves has the greatest influence on student achievement (Hattie, 2012). Australia has achieved international notoriety for its high levels of inequity among the social class and income axis (UNICEF, 2016). A disproportionate amount of Indigenous Australian and Torres Strait Islander people are represented in the ‘precarious proletariat’ demographic group, experiencing geographic isolation, discrimination, poor health, economic and informational barriers, low English literacy levels and the loss of their mother tongue (Australian Child Rights Task Force, 2016). In a country with a reputation for high performance and low equity, the main game is [insert adjective of choice or favourite buzzword here] learning – learning for all students.
Can resource allocation influence learning outcomes?
An estimated sixty percent of Australia’s most disadvantaged students attend under resourced schools in low socio-economic areas (Nous Group, 2011). According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the academic divide between students with low socio-economic backgrounds and students with average or advanced socio-economic backgrounds is much smaller when the schools have similar resources available (Connors and McMorrow, 2015). The 2012 PISA results indicate that Australia has exceptionally high levels of inequality in the allocation of resources in schools (Connors and McMorrow, 2015). Far from being catalysts of social equality, both Australian education policies and schools often serve as instruments of social stratification, assisting in maintaining disparities in power and wealth along socio-economic and ethnic lines across generations (Nous Group, 2011). This has implications for both quality teaching and technology use in schools.
It is about the learning, contemporary learning even, in today’s world. Which is why we also need to focus some of our energy on the technology.
Quality teaching and informed discussions regarding educational technology are not two different concepts, but two sides of the same coin. Excellent teachers who are committed to improving their practice are by definition teachers who are aware that the benefits that technology can offer are not as accessible for disadvantaged and minority social groups. Ingenuity and a genuine technical curiosity are essential skills for all teachers to acquire in order to ensure that technology is used to level the playing field rather than to further stratify society.
Australian Child Rights Taskforce. (2016). CRC25 Australian Progress Report. Online. Retrieved from: http://www.unicef.org.au/Upload/UNICEF/Media/Documents/CRC25-Australian-Progress-Report.pdf
Australian Broadcasting Corporation. (2012). Future Tense: 21st Century Education. Retrieved from: http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/futuretense/21st-century-education/4197700#transcript
Connors, L., & McMorrow, J. (2015). Imperatives in School Funding: Equity sustainability and achievement, Australian Education Review No 60. Melbourne: ACER. Retrieved from: http://research.acer.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1024&context=aer
Hattie, J. (2012). Visible Learning for Teachers: maximising impact on learning. Oxon: Routledge
Nous Group. (2011). Schooling challenges and opportunities: a report for the Review of Funding for Schooling panel. ISBN: 978-0- 9871847-0- 2 Retrieved from: http://apo.org.au/node/26252
United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF). (2016). Fairness for Children. A league table of inequality in child well-being in rich countries, no. 13, UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti, Florence. Retrieved from: https://www.unicef-irc.org/publications/series/16/